Master gardener Reed, BTG team up to map Chautauqua cultivations

Amanda Mainguy | Staff Photographer
Joe McMaster, local horticulturalist, along with Sharon Reed, master gardener with the Chautauqua County Cornell Cooperative Extension, lead a Garden Walk through the Chautauqua grounds on Tuesday.

Beautiful gardens are part and parcel to Chautauqua Institution, as the grounds are filled with bursts of radiant flowers, banks of dense shrubs and groves of shade trees that offer a cool reprieve on a hot summer day. Sharon Reed, certified master gardener with the Chautauqua County Cornell Cooperative Extension, is currently working with the Bird, Tree & Garden Club to draft a censused map of Chautauqua’s garden locations and the hundreds of plants within them.

“We’ve never had anything like this,” said BTG board member Johanna Sholder. “[The map] will be a great thing to have, and I think it will really help people understand more about what kind of gardens we have here.”

Reed said she has spent the past four weeks walking the grounds with Sholder, documenting the huge variety of plant life in the Institution’s green spaces. Reed compiles her findings into Microsoft Excel spreadsheets that she carries around on her official “Master Gardener” clipboard.

According to Reed’s garden census database, Chautauqua Institution has 54 gardens that house more than 260 different species of trees, shrubs and flowers, with native species making up approximately half of the total plant population.

“The plan is to work with BTG to map out different tours, like the Tuesday garden walks,” Reed said. “We can give that information to the people who go on the walks and they’ll have a more in-depth understanding.”

In addition to her work as resident botanical cartographer, Reed also assists local horticulturist Joe McMaster as a guide on his garden walks at 4:15 p.m. every Tuesday at Smith Wilkes Hall. Reed’s map will help her and McMaster deliver a more educational experience to tour attendees.

Maps of the gardens around the Institution have been made before, but Sholder said most of them are incorrect or incomplete.

She also said that having a map of the ground’s green spaces would be beneficial for the visitors to Chautauqua as well as the departments like the Grounds, Gardens and Landscaping Office.

“Ryan Kiblin was working on making this map before she passed away,” Sholder said. “We asked Sharon if she would be willing to pick it up, and she jumped right in. She’s very good at organizing, and we’re getting so much new information we can use to upgrade our gardens and make them more beautiful.”

Cornell Cooperative Extension master gardeners gain their title by completing up to 50 hours of classroom instruction on a variety of subjects ranging from botany, to fertilizer use, to pest management. Master gardeners are challenged to complete at least 50 hours of volunteer work to retain their certification.

In the past five years that she has been certified, Reed said she’s completed over 1,200 hours of volunteering, and usually surpasses the recommended amount of work in about a month.

Reed and McMaster will be hosting a garden walk at 4:15 p.m. next Tuesday, starting at the patio on the lakeside of Smith Wilkes Hall, rain or shine.